Postcard from Ketchikan

26 Feb

img_20160219_113526708.jpgI made it out of Alaska alive. Not even one attempted murder….I mean, as far as I know. Nobody attempted to murder me at least, so I’ll chalk that up to a successful trip. But really, would a murderer have this kind of interior design sense?

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As for not knowing who I was staying with, all I have to say is that people everywhere can be amazing and interesting. I first stayed with a woman who counts fish, as in, will go out into the woods and count fish to make sure the population stays within a healthy range. Her dog? Adorable. Her girlfriend builds ships. Just to make you drool, she has an 11′ level at work. That’s eleven feet. Of level. My second hosts were a public defender, who’s had a case of assault with a bear skull, and an engineer who tests submarines. Dude.

I’m glad I got to experience Ketchikan during the off-season and as someone who wasn’t quite a tourist. We tried to do tourist-y things during my free day, but most of them were shut down, which was fine because I got to go to my favorite tourist trap: the grocery store.

Each of my hosts took me to a different one. I went to A&P — that’s Alaska & Proud for those of you who immediately thought of Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company — and also Safeway (open late!). Sadly, I did not also go into Tatsuda’s IGA, which has been around a long time, but I’ll save that for the next trip. Oh, and I went to Wal-Mart, which was an experience too, since I couldn’t tell you the last time I stepped into a Wal-Mart.

I’ve got to give my hosts credit here–they let me wander the aisles as long as I wanted. I told one I’d be in there a good hour, so she left to run errands and came back later. I saw lots of West Coast brands I was unfamiliar with, as well as some other random brands from around the country. Several different types of Louisiana-based hot sauce, Russian-style mustard, evidence of a Filipino community due to the prominence of (and what I thought was cheap at $1.69/pound ) frozen banana leaves and sweet corn ice cream–at Wal-Mart they also have Filipino-style spaghetti sauce. I also saw two kinds of buttermilk: regular and Bulgarian style. Where did the demand for Bulgarian-style buttermilk come from? My host didn’t know and said that a lot of products are in stores based on requests, so somebody knows some secrets about buttermilk!

You could also get massive quantities of onions and potatoes (think 25 lb. sacks) and meat. You want roughly 14 lbs. of NY Strip? That’ll be $111. 48. Beef brisket? I can get you a 18.27 lb. hunk or $91.17. If you’d rather have pork, how about a nice 23 lb. untrimmed pork butt for $80.55?

But beyond grocery shopping, some amazing scenery and eating fresh fish and chips, there was a fair amount of “let me blow your mind with this factoid.” I was amazed that Alaska Airlines lets Alaska residents check two bags for free (three if you’re flying within Alaska), which means that Alaskans will fly down south with two large plastic bins and go grocery shopping. My one host grew up in a smaller Alaskan town (Ketchikan’s about 12,000 for the town and surrounding borough) and said it was normal to fly somewhere once a month for groceries because that’s more economical.

Meanwhile, I blew their minds by telling them I had to have a permit to own a gun, not just for concealed carry–and that I don’t yet have a concealed carry license due to my town’s restrictions. We won’t even get into the reaction about how up until recently you needed a license to carry pepper spray in the Commonwealth. For them, it’s assumed that you own guns. Plural. Period. Of course you do. It’s Alaska.

But let’s not forget that I was there for roller derby, which was a really great time. I met some passionate and dedicated people who are working really hard to have this sport take off in their little portion of the world–which is an uphill battle when you’re competing with a pretty big basketball scene during the few months where people aren’t swamped with seasonal-based work and tourists. I’m always so amazed at how I’ve been able to go all over the world and basically walk into the same scene–and even though this group was mostly learning from books, manuals, videos and the occasional person who’s been able to travel outside of Alaska, they’ve been doing pretty well for themselves. I hope they can continue to grow the sport because you can see how much of a difference it makes in people’s lives, and Alaskans are no different.

This weekend, though, has put Alaska higher on my list. I’d love to go back and experience more of our country’s last frontier–there’s so much to learn from there.

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